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Soccer Break Thursday – United roll on

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Manchester United just keep on winning despite a sluggish season by their usually high standards and will now face Barcelona in the Champions League final on May 28.

Predictions? Hard to see even a full strength United keeping Messi and co at bay, especially as Barca coach Pep Guardiola will be seeking to continue his love affair with Wembley.

Next up for Alex Ferguson’s men is the visit of title rivals Chelsea on Sunday, certain to be a much stiffer test than a disappointingly lacklustre Schalke 04 on Wednesday. Will United’s formidable home record count in their favour?

Staying in Europe, and Thursday is Europa League day. Porto take a 5-1 lead into the second semi-final leg against Villarreal, while compatriots Benfica beat fellow Portuguese club Braga 2-1 at home.

New Zealand draw with Italy in another World Cup shock

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YEAREND PICTURESNew Zealand could not quite pull off a win over Italy in their second Group F game on Sunday but a 1-1 draw still represented an extraordinary achievement.

New Zealand are at number 78 in the FIFA rankings and began the tournament as 1,000-1 outsiders while Italy are the World champions yet you would never have known it from the game in Nelspruit.

Oceania needs a rethink after New Zealand thrashing

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In the previous post, Martyn Herman looked at soccer’s international minnows while here Mark Gleeson discusses the particular plight of New Zealand.Oceania, as a confederation, threatened to disintegrate under the weight of a quick fire Fernando Torres hat-trick on Sunday night.The match-up in the Confederations Cup between European champions Spain and New Zealand, who represent FIFA’s smallest and least competitive confederation, was almost as one-sided as any major international in decades.As Torres banged in three goals in the first 17 minutes, so the legitimacy of the 11-member confederation came under a stark spotlight.Fortunately for Oceania’s cause, the Spanish managed just two more, albeit one profiting from a schoolboy error, but there will surely come a time when the gulf between the collection of Pacific island nations and the rest of the footballing world no longer produces a remotely equitable contest.Despite their best lobbying effort, Oceania are repeatedly denied a direct berth to the World Cup on sporting grounds. Their best team must playoff, usually against a South American country, or in the case for 2010, an Asian side, to qualify.Australia moved from Oceania to Asia because they felt it was uncompetitive and not advancing the standard of their game. Now New Zealand, where football is hoping to evolve from its current status as a minority sport, rules the roost against the islands, often barely breaking a sweat to dominate the confederation’s competitions.On the evidence of Sunday’s performance, New Zealand football would do well to join the Asian confederation too. They frankly need more exposure.Indeed Oceania’s collective cause is best served by folding into the Asian confederation where the island teams will find many other countries of the same footballing pedigree and have more competition too.Already Asia have created two tiers to accommodate its less proficient members and end years of ridiculous mis-matches.As Torres was riding roughshod in Rustenburg, I wonder whether that thought crossed the minds of any of FIFA’s top leadership.PHOTO: Spain’s Fernando Torres (C) rises above the New Zealand defence to score his third goal during their Confederations Cup soccer match at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg June 14, 2009. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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